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GSE Jesuit Scholar Kevin Spinale, S.J., Ph.D., on Jesuit Rhetoric – Old and New


Brotéria, a cultural center and research library in Lisbon, Portugal, invited Fordham Graduate School of Education faculty member Kevin Spinale, S.J., Ph.D., to speak on Jesuit rhetoric. Brotéria, which explores current urban concerns from multiple angles and languages, called on Fr. Spinale to investigate the long transformation in Jesuit education from orality to literacy and how Jesuit education might return to an emphasis on an aural-oral world with renewed focus and relevance.

Jesuit rhetoric can be divided by Old and New, and Fr. Spinale added a new component to the discourse, that of OpenAI and Chat GPT. Fr. Spinale posed a straightforward command to AI to write 300 words on Jesuit Rhetoric Old and New. In less than 60 seconds, he received a fairly accurate response.

Briefly, Old Jesuit rhetoric was characterized by its emphasis on classical education and the use of traditional rhetorical devices such as metaphor, simile, and repetition. The Jesuits believed in the power of language to influence and persuade, and they taught their students to use language effectively and persuasively. They also believed in the importance of clear and logical reasoning, and they trained their students to develop their argumentation skills.

New Jesuit rhetoric, on the other hand, refers to a more modern approach to rhetoric that emerged in the 20th century. This new approach is characterized by a greater emphasis on the role of communication in shaping public opinion and promoting social justice. It emphasizes the use of new media and technology, as well as interdisciplinary approaches to communication. It also places a greater emphasis on ethical considerations, such as the responsible use of power and the impact of rhetoric on marginalized communities.

Fr. Spinale shared his thoughts on how the ease in outsourcing the production and ordering of words is having an immediate impact on education. His response to ChatGPT’s AI generated essay included that Jesuit rhetoric – Old and New – involves three essential elements: ministry of word, education, and the human voice. These all involve artful composition, that is rhetorical composition. In fact, he said, Jesuit rhetorical tradition has two incarnational resources to draw from when considering how to teach and research and write: the sound of a human voice and the interiority of a human soul. New rhetoric – or authentic human composing – must embrace these two elements: voice and interiority.

Spinale then raised the thought that with sound or spoken word, which is the human preference for how we receive messaging, being so easy to record, store and share, we might be entering a second orality. We might be leaving the world of printed and digitized writing behind.

The lecture ended with Fr. Spinale stating that interiority is a level of experience that AI cannot enter nor compose from. In the context of a new reality where rhetorical composing can be accomplished by an artificial intelligence, we must, as educators, as preachers, as men and women composing meaningful tests, reassert the truth that writing is intersubjective. We write to respond to meaning spoken forth by other interiorities and we write in the hope that another human interiority will respond to us.

Voice and interiority are concepts that rehumanize composing. We compose for one another, to develop our thought and have it responded to. The only reason to continue to take up the labor of composition is to direct it toward another interiority.

Father Spinale’s complete lecture may be viewed here.

Kevin Spinale, S.J., Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Fordham Graduate School of Education’s division of curriculum and teaching. Fr. Spinale has focused his research on investigating what he terms “humane principles,” comparing the ideas of James Moffett and Walter Ong on writing and epistemology to help cultivate language growth in students at all levels of education.


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